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Covid chaos 'Pandemonium' at Heathrow Airport as Irish travellers scramble to beat UK travel ban


Arrivals at Heathrow (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Arrivals at Heathrow (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Arrivals at Heathrow (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Irish people living in Britain have been voicing their sadness, shock and anger at the sudden travel ban from the UK which came into effect at midnight last night.

The 48-hour ban on freight and air travel was enforced by the government due to worries over a new more-virulent strain of Covid-19 that has seen cases skyrocket in London, in particular.

This triggered a panic among some Irish people who attempted to catch the last flight to Dublin last night from Heathrow. One passenger that was lucky enough to get a seat on the flight said the scenes were like “an end of the world movie”.

"We have just come to Dublin from London Heathrow and it was just crazy. 300-odd people and it was just panic, no one knew what they were doing. Everyone had booked their flight last night at the last minute. It was pandemonium, really.

"People weren’t getting answers and were getting frustrated. There were people that didn’t make it home, they were told to go off so there are disappointed people but I am delighted to get home,” one passenger told RTÉ Radio.

“It was like an ‘end of the world’ movie at one stage,” another told the national broadcaster.

Last night, hundreds of Dublin-bound passengers took to social media tonight to vent their frustration claiming that one of the last flights out of the UK before the midnight ban kicked in was oversold.

Passengers posted photos and video images of large queues forming at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 where the Aer Lingus flight at 8:55pm was due to depart for Dublin.

The flight was operated by Aer Lingus but the tickets were booked through British Airways.

Aer Lingus said it won’t be commenting on the issue as the booking issue is a matter for British Airways.

A second flight was reportedly added late last night to accommodate the passengers who were bumped from the initial flight.

However, a spokesman for BA would not confirm the number of passengers affected or explain why the flight was oversold, or even when the second flight was due to depart.

“Our teams looked after customers while we urgently looked into alternative arrangements to get them on their way to Dublin as quickly as possible,” read a statement from the airline.

But a number of disgruntled passengers took to Twitter to voice their frustration over what many described as chaotic scenes at the airport.

“I was booked on this flight, and I am travelling for essential reasons which I have proof of. My son is in Dublin and I’m just trying to get home to him,” wrote one woman.

“I’ve been told to go to Belfast tomorrow - and to leave the airport. I booked this flight ages ago. How can they do this to people? People with essential reasons to travel. All the people that left on that flight with no essential reasons.”

A passenger who tweeted about the ‘exodus’ of Dublin-bound passengers trying to get the last flight out before the midnight travel ban posted a later tweet expressing her relief at being able to get home.

“Hoping this will be the final update: Irish gov have given the green light and we’ve been processed for a BA flight. Due to land at 23:45. Whoops of joy once the news got out. A Christmas miracle!,” wrote the passenger.

The SouthEast of the UK has been raised to Tier 4, a new level which equates to a near-total lockdown for roughly 20 million people, and renders many Irish forced to stay in the UK this Christmas.

Joe Coulter from Mayobridge said he had a flight home but was informed that it is now cancelled and he won’t be able to travel home.

“I was trying to get home, which is just north of the border outside Newry but I have just got word from Ryanair that the flight is cancelled and I can’t get a flight home before Christmas. I have been in London for 13 years and I’ve been home every year - it’s quite devastating because in London we were actually in tier two a few days ago,” Mr Coulter told RTÉ Morning Ireland.

Caitríona Templeton said she feels her family have been “robbed of so many memories” this year and says her parents were looking forward to spending time with her daughter Alice for the first time.

“We were getting so excited with videos, texts and photos over the last number of weeks. We’re just gutted. We’re quite upset how the government has ran things here; it has robbed us of our Christmas”.

Sam Bowman said the British government dropped the ball when it came to heightening restrictions and should have acted earlier.

“I booked my flights back in September and I knew then there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be going back. I spoke alone with my parents and we decided the number of cases here was high enough that I couldn’t risk coming home and bringing it back home to them. I think it is the right decision but I think they should have done it six weeks ago, not five days before Christmas."

Liz Crummy said her parents were quite upset that her two children in the UK won’t be able to get home and see their grandparents this year.

“We were really excited and they had been tested so they were safe to come home and we had put in all the measures we needed in the house. Not being able to see their grandparents is an awful blow and that is what we are most upset about. They were going to see each other from the garden and my mam and dad were really looking forward to that so it is quite upsetting.”

Comedian Gráinne Maguire said it was “so horrible” to ring her parents and tell them she wouldn’t be home but thought it wasn’t worth the risk due to how contagious the new strain of Covid-19 appears.

“It’s just so sad - I’ve never not been home for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking and so chaotic here. My parents have said Christmas isn’t cancelled, it is just postponed.”

BA have not responded to further requests for comment.

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